On the day that Walter Nally was trying to decide whether to commit his son to a mental hospital, he was reassured by two pastoral counselors at Grace Community Church of the Valley that his son was fine, Nally testified Thursday.
Those encouraging remarks, and a similar note of reassurance a few days earlier from the senior pastor’s wife, contributed heavily to his March 23, 1979, decision not to hospitalize his son, Nally said.
Nine days later, 24-year-old Kenneth Nally killed himself with a shotgun in a friend’s Burbank apartment. Walter Nally and his wife, Maria, are suing the Sun Valley church, claiming that pastors withheld information about their son’s severe depression and discouraged him from seeking psychiatric care.
Senior pastor John MacArthur, one of four defendants in the unprecedented “clergy malpractice” trial, testified in Glendale Superior Court Thursday, however, that church officials did “as much for Ken as anyone at the church” in the 16 years he has headed the congregation.
Stayed at Pastor’s Home
MacArthur said he could recall only five other people who received the kind of attention from church officials that Kenneth Nally got before his April 1, 1979, suicide.
MacArthur said he invited Kenneth Nally, whom he knew only casually, to stay at his home for six days after the young man was released on March 17, 1979, from a hospital in Glendale, where he had undergone treatment for a drug-overdose suicide attempt.
“Our house is always open,” MacArthur said. “We never let him out of our sight for the entire time he was with us.”
Testimony in the 3-week-old trial has revealed that some pastors at Grace church had a general feeling during 1976 and 1977 that Nally might try suicide and that he had talked of killing himself during counseling sessions with pastors in 1978 and 1979.
Talk of Suicide
Earlier in the trial, the Rev. Duane Rea, a defendant, said that, when he visited Kenneth Nally at Verdugo Hills Hospital after the drug overdose, Nally pledged to try suicide again after being released.
MacArthur testified that, when he went to the hospital, Nally said he “was sorry that he had not succeeded.” At the end of Nally’s stay at his home, MacArthur said, he reached the conclusion that Nally still suffered from intermittent depression.
Walter Nally testified Thursday that, if the pastors had told him what they knew, he would have had his son committed to a mental hospital on March 23, 1979, when he discussed that possibility with the psychiatrist who had interviewed Kenneth Nally at Verdugo Hills Hospital.
“I didn’t have much to go on,” Walter Nally said.
Instead, the father said, when he inquired at the church about his son’s health, defendants Richard Thomson and Lynn Cory assured him, “Don’t worry, Mr. Nally, he’s all right.”
Walter Nally said that earlier that same week, while his son was at the MacArthur home, Patricia MacArthur told him: “Ken is doing well. He’s playing with the children. He baby-sits for us.”
Church officials have maintained that they sent Kenneth Nally to two physicians and a professor of psychology at a Christian college in La Mirada, and trusted those professionals to see to it that he got the help he needed.
The church also has stated that the Nally family ignored the advice of several doctors to admit their son to a psychiatric hospital.
MacArthur testified Thursday that Kenneth Nally was the first church member to have committed suicide. However, Nally family attorney Edward Barker read the names of two other young men he claimed were church members who had killed themselves about a year earlier.
Under questioning, MacArthur said: “I hate to admit it, but I don’t know the people who are members and aren’t members. I know the faces.”
The trial, which is recessed on Fridays, will resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday.